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It's a humid July night on the West Bank outside the Triple Rock bar. A dozen college-age rap fans are stealing a few gulps of summer air between sets when a familiar bass line summons them back inside. The Sharpie-wielding bouncer, who looks like a cross between a Hell's Angel and the singer from Blues Traveler, eyes them suspiciously, leaning purposefully next to the sign on the door that reads "18+ I.D."
The MC begins his first number, and the crowd congeals into a blob on the dance floor. It's impossible to tell each patron's age, let alone what beverage they're cradling. A pig-tailed girl who looks to be on the wrong side of 13 bounces by sipping a Pabst. Two guys lingering on the side seem like the Corona type but toss back Red Bulls instead, thick X's marked on each hand.
If City Councilwoman Lisa Goodman gets her way, this scene could become a thing of the past. Just two days prior to this show, club owners, managers, and promoters in Minneapolis learned that the City Council was exploring restrictions on 18+ events. If the ordinance passes, it leaves two options: dry shows for the all-ages crowd or 21+ shows where the booze flows freely.
"We would lose anywhere from $50,000 to $100,000 per month and would close if this law goes into effect," says John Barlow, managing partner at downtown's newest event complex, Epic. "This would be a deathblow to us as a concert venue. There's a $2 million project here that will sit idle and dark."
The proposal follows an aborted attempt earlier this year to crack down on college nights at bars. Back in February, the Public Health Advisory Committee unsuccessfully lobbied the City Council for a ban on happy hours, two-for-one drink specials, and drinking games. When that failed, the committee approached Ward 7 Councilwoman Goodman with the idea of restricting 18+ shows.
Goodman says a ride-along with the Minneapolis Police Department last May opened her eyes to the problem.
"What I saw on Hennepin Avenue at 3 a.m. on a Sunday night is not what most of us are used to seeing on a normal night in Minneapolis," Goodman says. "On the corner of Hennepin and Fourth, there were hundreds of people standing in the parking lot, blocking the entrance and hanging over the ramp, to the point the horse police had to enter from the exit. They were screaming and yelling and drunk, and clearly these people were very young."
Though she's been getting phone calls and emails from concerned club-goers, musicians, and DJs, Goodman says there's no choice but to do something.
"I just don't know how I can in good faith look at these public-health people and tell them we don't propagate youth access to alcohol when we allow 18-year-olds into bars where 21-year-olds can pass them alcohol," she says with a twinge of exhaustion. "If I don't do something to address this now, I'm going to face something far more onerous."
Fearing the worst, managers, club owners, and promoters mobilized earlier this month, gathering for the first of what would be several meetings at Epic. Among the clubs represented were the Fine Line, First Avenue, the Loring, and Spin. Barlow and booking manager Beecher Vaillancourt explained to them why "this thing would just kill us."
But no matter how the particulars shake out, even the lightest restriction would have a serious impact on local nightlife. A petition circulating on Facebook lists a number of headliners who would likely skip Minneapolis should the law pass, including the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Girl Talk, and Phoenix.
All but three of First Avenue's scheduled shows for August are 18+ gigs, as are dance nights Too Much Love, Honeymoon, Get Cryphy, and Ritmo Caliente.
"If people aren't able to do 18+ shows with alcohol, it's going to be hard to run bands through here," says Cabooze booking manager James "Taco" Martin. "A lot of bands require it because they can sell a lot of merch to people who aren't buying drinks with the money in their pocket."
The council's effort makes no sense to Parker Jones, a 19-year-old student at the University of Minnesota, where binge drinking is on the decline according to a Washington University School of Medicine study published this month. Jones said he goes to several 18+ shows per month and hasn't noticed a problem with people drinking inside the club—they drink before they go in. He says the bill would just move that kind of behavior to all-ages shows.
"They're focusing on a really small part of a societal problem," said Jones. "Why penalize the many of us who like to go out and hear good music because of a few people who would drink too much in any situation?"